Prince George's County economic development planners could be humming it now: There's no business like show business to get new business to grow.
The county is sponsoring a month long Celebration of the Arts to try to bring the business and the arts communities together for their mutual benefit.
Local business people might be able to help the arts groups find much-needed financial backing during a time of government budget austerity. The benefits for the businesses would be less direct and less quantifiable, county officials say: Enhancing the county's amenities makes it a better place for people to live and work in -- and for companies to locate and expand it.
The celebration will include daily events throughout the county all during May, an artisitc potpourri of music, theater, arts exhibits, historical tours and festivals. There are more than a hundred events scheduled in all; most are free, and the rest are inexpensive.
The celebration is sponsored by the county planning and economic deveopment department and the private Prince George's Travel Promotion Council in cooperation with the Parks Department arts division, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission and the county arts community.
"Businesses see [the celebration] as a good way of promoting Prince George's County, as a way of promoting their own interests," says Kate Hedberg, special assistant for cultural affairs in the Prince George's County public planning and economic development department.
Charles Dilton, chairman of the county's Economic Development Advisory Committee and president of Fedco Systems, an architectural engineering firm, agrees that a strong arts program helps a community's development, particularly in attracting new businesses to the county.
"More business typically is good for all business," Dillon says in explaining local companies' interest in enhancing the arts sector as an inducement to new and relocating businesses."Markets get generateds when things are going on."
The county is spending $11,375 on the program, and the nonprofit travel council is contributing $7,000. Business is not contributing money to the celebration but helped in its planning, and Giant Food and Suburban Trust distributed the schedule of events.
Local companies have been skeptical, however, of one specific goal of the celebration -- development of a county arts council -- Hedberg says. The council is envisioned as a private, nonprofit organization to coordinate fund raising and promotion of the arts. Montgomery and Fairfax counties already have such a group, she said.
The celebration should help focus more business attention on the value of such a group to the community, she adds.
John Rhoads, executive vice president of the Prince George's Chamber of Commerce, says that businesses have taken a "cautious, slow approach" to the arts council basically because they fear it could become just another group to hit them up for money. Businesses slowly are coming around to the idea, however, when it is made clear that the council would coordinate all fund-raising efforts for the arts, not become a new, better organized pest, he adds.
Hedberg says the council would look to business people who are interested in the arts for members, and they probably would be paid. "Volunteerism is really changing a lot," she says. "You don't find that [high] level of dedication anymore."
Someone with a business background would be more likely to have organizational abilities needed for fund raising and would have access to a variety of elements of the community, Hedberg indicates. This would make it easier to pull together the elements needed for a strong promotion of the arts, she says.
The first of the festivals was held Saturday at the Hard Bargain Farm in Accokeek. For those who forget just how rural Prince George's County can be, the ride past fields of grazing cows to the farm and environmental study area is a pleasant reminder. At the farm, families with children in bright-colored jackets ate cotton candy and watched how pioneers made wood spikes for building their homes.
Across the county at the University of Maryland, an eclectic schedule of entertainment was being performed in different spots the same day: a recital by the Carpathian Greeks of Baltimore, a pops concert by the university's Concert Band and a piano recital. In the evening, there were performances of Agatha Christie's. "The Mouse Trap" at Bowie Senior High School, "Oklahoma" at the Publick Playhouse in Cheverly and "Who's Life Is It Anyway?" at the Queen Anne Theatre in Largo.
In addition to this were art exhibits, some of which last all month, and periodic tours of such places as the NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, the Belair Stable Museum and Fort Washington Park on the Potomac, the oldest fort built to protect the capital.
The day's events were fairly typical of the kinds which will be held throughout the month. Other special programs include geneology seminars for beginners, book discussions and "a multimedia program on historic Laurel."
Dillon stressed that local companies are well aware of "the need to assume a sense of responsibility for the arts" and said they contribute a great deal already to a multitude of artistic endeavors.
"The business community has a strong interest in the arts," Dillon said. "In terms of marketing the county [for new businesses], the arts are equally important as talking about what kind of roads we have."